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Sociology Research Guide

Steps for evaluating sources

When you encounter an unfamiliar source, SIFT:

1. STOP

  • If you are unsure about the source of the information you're reading, take the following actions and don't share or use the information in your research until you know more about it!

2. INVESTIGATE THE SOURCE

  • If you are unfamiliar with a website, newspaper, magazine, or scholarly journal, type the name of the source or website in Google or Wikipedia and learn what others have discovered about this source. Is it a respected journalistic source, a heavily-biased news outlet, or a known satire website?
  • Google the name of the author and check their credentials. Are they a respected journalist reporting in a respected source like The New York Times or Science magazine? Do they have credentials or authority in a specific field of research? If you are looking for more information about a scholar, you can search their name in scholar.google.com to see their publications.

3. FIND THE ORIGINAL SOURCE

  • In web articles, look for signal phrases like "According to ...." and "as reported by...." to see who reported the claim first. If the article hyperlinks or references another source, check that source. Are they linking to themselves, or to outside credible sources?
  • If you are reading an academic source, check their references list. Do they cite other scholars in books and journals, or are they only citing web articles and Wikipedia?

4. TRACE CLAIMS, QUOTES, AND MEDIA TO THE ORIGINAL SOURCE

The above "SIFT" method is adapted from Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers by Michael A. Caulfield, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Popular vs. scholarly sources

Popular or Scholarly? What's the Difference?

Popular sources:

  • include magazine, newspaper, and most web articles.
  • authors are journalists or reporters
  • articles range from a paragraph (news blurb) to a few pages (magazine editorial)
  • topic and language target a general, wide-ranging audience 
  • sources may be referenced or hyperlinked, but often not formally cited
  • articles are on current events or popular topics

Photo of front page of New York Times

Image of the popular newspaper, The New York Times, by Marcus Spiske via unsplash.com.

Scholarly sources:

  • include research articles published in peer-reviewed journals and some academic books
  • authors are subject experts or researchers
  • content is many pages long and written with subject-specific or technical language
  • often include charts, graphs, or statistics
  • topic targets a specific audience, usually other researchers in an academic field
  • sources are cited in footnotes or lengthy bibliographies

Screenshot of first page of a research article "Using a gratitude intervention to enhance well-being in older adults"

Screenshot of a research article published in Journal of Happiness Studies via EBSCOhost.